So I've heard, here and there, that global warming is actually likely to manifest itself as "global weirding." And yeah, I do know the difference between "weather" and "climate," but good heavens we're having an annoyingly weird spring. It's rained every day except yesterday for like four weeks straight. My garden is sun-starving. My roof is dripping. And my soups are remaining in the "warm and nourishing" category rather than lapsing into the "languid and refreshing" category into which I thought they would have fallen by now.
Anyway, this hearty lamb soup certainly fit the nourishing bill. You could certainly vary the amount of barley used to make it thicker or thinner, and just about any fresh veggies you have sitting around would be excellent candidates. I bet it would be lovely in fall/winter with a whole bunch of root vegetables, too. The cabbage may not be a traditional addition, but everyone gave it a thumbs-up.
Do try to find some teeny-tiny "creamer" potatoes if you're making this soup. Their flavor and texture really complement the lamb's slight gaminess in a way that chunks of bigger russets just wouldn't.
Serves probably eight or ten; I made a bunch on purpose; it gets even better with age.
2 lamb shanks, 2 to 3 pounds total, trimmed of excess fat
Salt and pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil (or, for a full-on taste sensation, use bacon fat!)
One bouquet garni: several stems each of parsley and thyme, plus a couple of bay leaves, tied together or crammed into a tea ball
1/2 to 1 cup (I used 3/4 cup) pearl barley, rinsed, possibly soaked for a couple of hours in cold water if you have time and/or the inclination
Water to cover
4 or 5 medium-sized carrots, scrubbed (peeled if they're particularly ugly, otherwise don't bother) and sliced
About 1/2 pound small white creamer potatoes, halved or otherwise cut down to bite-size
1/2 head green cabbage, shredded
2 Tbsp more olive oil (or, y'know, bacon fat)
1 large onion, chopped
2 or 3 ribs celery, likewise chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp to 1 Tbsp (Drunken Angel) hot sauce, optional but advised
Plenty of salt. Seriously. I probably ended up using about a tablespoon. Don't freak out; just go for it.
Freshly ground black pepper
Sprinkle lamb shanks with salt and pepper. Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat in a large soup pot. Add the lamb shanks and cook, turning every few minutes, until well browned on all sides.
Add barley and bouquet garni; cover with cold water; bring to a simmer; cover and simmer over nice low heat for a long, long time. Two hours or so should do it. (You could also give this project 8 hours or so in the slow cooker.) Check periodically to make sure the water level hasn't dropped too low.
When barley is tender and lamb shanks are cooked through, remove bouquet garni and discard; remove lamb shanks and set aside to cool. Stir in carrots, potatoes and cabbage; return to a simmer and cook for another half hour or so, until carrots and potatoes are sufficiently tender. (If you're making this in the slow cooker, give it an couple hours or so on High.) Once lamb shanks are cool enough, shred off meat with fingers and reserve. Discard bones or feed them to a nearby dog, who will love you forever and ever as a result.
Heat remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil in a skillet. Add onion and celery; saute over medium heat until tender, about 7 minutes; add garlic and saute for 1 minute more. Scrape sauteed vegetables into soup and mix well. Simmer for a couple more minutes.
Stir meat back into soup and heat through. Whisk in hot sauce; taste and season generously with salt; grind in some pepper.
Serve with buttered whole-grain toast for that full-on hearty Highland experience.